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Coastal Dawn

Coastal Dawn Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review February 2016 Title Coastal Dawn
Author Andrew Bird Publisher Grub Street Publishing
Published 2014 ISBN 9781906502690
Format 224 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $39.95


Bristol Blenheim fighters of RAF Coastal Command 235, 236, 248 and 254 Squadrons performed interception, bomber escort and maritime protection missions during Britain’s first 15 months of World War II.

Unfortunately, despite their range and firepower, they proved tragically obsolescent.

Mining anecdotal and archival sources, author Andrew Bird now tracks the Blenheim fighters “sythed” – the author’s word – from skies over England, Norway, France and the Low Countries. Grub Street Publishing’s volume – Coastal Dawn: Blenheims in Action from the Phoney War through the Battle of Britain – is available in North America from Casemate.

Heavily seasoned with personal accounts, nearly half of Bird’s chronicle concentrates on combat from August 1940.

The author ladles heaping helpings of mundane minutiae onto every page – details like diet, dress and weather. He describes, for instance, Friday, 10 May 1940 – the day Hitler launched his western Blitzkrieg – as “stifling hot even before midday”.

But all these pale beside Bird’s action accounts. Replete with examples of exceptional bravery and resourcefulness, these naturally dominate coverage. And tragedies also understandably abound – like the fratricidal incident between Blenheims L9456 and L9392 and two French Potez 631s.

Personalities figure prominently, too. Characters include, for instance, Flying Officer Reginald Peacock – “in the annals of Royal Air Force Coastal Command the first and only pilot effort to ever achieve ace status in a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV fighter”. Some of the book’s fliers even participated in “The Great Escape”. And here and there, WAAFs appear – “to take ones [sic: one’s] thoughts away from aerial warfare”.

Nitpicks? The author’s penchant for dangling modifiers occasionally sowed confusion – and irritation. None of the book’s hundreds of incident details is annotated. And that certainly proved equally vexing.

To wit: some combat chronicles seem dramatized beyond belief. Just how can Andrew Bird exhaustively relate, for instance, Blenheim IVF L8692’s grisly end? No one witnessed the crew’s last acts. The fighter disintegrated upon impact. And no one survived the crash. Yet Bird recounts L8692’s final moments in intimate and meticulous detail.

Still, I really enjoyed this informative, entertaining effort. Dozens of photos, three appendices, a selected bibliography and an index augment the account. How about those Bristol Aeroplane Company drawings of ventral Blenheim 0.303 Browning gun packs?

So grab some fried bread. Curl up with a hot mug of Horlicks. And follow the brave Blenheim fighter crews of RAF Coastal Command during Britain’s darkest days.

The Aldis lamp is green! (Translation: “recommended”!)

My sincere thanks to Casemate Publishing for this review sample!